Alumni Spotlight: Dustin Vann

Dustin Vann (BA ’16, MA ’20)

I approached my latest job search with more calm and practicality than even I thought I could muster.

Unlike previous searches, where the stakes were higher to find a job due to the end of a lease or a global pandemic, this time around, I wanted to have more of a plan.

I enjoyed my previous job—office manager for both the Chapman Center for Rural Studies and the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work—and while I wasn’t in a rush to move on, I knew it was, as they say, “time.” 

Time and the hindsight it provides, especially as I’ve grown older, taught me that while there’s so much out of your control when it comes to finding your “dream job,” there’s nothing wrong with having your own set of standards and expectations when seeking out work. This is where my own personal wish list came in and, as I once again stood face-to-face with the job market, I knew that whatever my next position would be, it’d have to be: 

  1. In a new city
  2. Creatively challenging AND fulfilling
  3. A natural progression from my current work

Until I found something that checked off all my personal boxes, I was content to stay where I was at. There would be no compromises. 

I began this new job search early last summer; that September, I interviewed and soon after accepted the position of Communication Specialist for the Honors Program at the University of Kansas. Here’s how this position in particular satisfied my personal wish list. 

1. In a new city

This one’s pretty obvious. I’d lived in Manhattan for basically all my adult life; I have fond memories of the town, loved my time at K-State (as a undergrad, grad student, and employee), and enjoyed being close to my hometown of Junction City. But it was time for me to move on, try on a new cityscape for size. Wildly, I had only been to Lawrence a couple times before officially moving here in November, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know the city. 

2. Creatively challenging AND fulfilling

The “and” is doing a lot of work here, but necessarily so. At this point in my life, if I’m working, I want it to be on projects that push me to think creatively, excite me as I’m doing it, and ultimately leave me feeling like I contributed something worthwhile upon completion. I have two primary tasks in my role as communications specialist: 1) write/create a weekly newsletter for honors students highlighting academic/recreational opportunities across campus; and 2) manage the program’s social media platforms. While I would consider myself a writer, working in a more visual space wasn’t something I had a lot of professional experience in. This position has taught me the ins and outs of running successful social media campaigns, and pushed me out of my comfort zone to develop visual media for our program. Alongside the newsletter — the content of which changes every week — I’m creating in formats and at a volume I never have previously.

3. A natural progression* from my current work

Apart from my two years as a GTA and summer work with The Young Writers Workshop at K-State, most of my professional experience in adulthood has been in the field of office management. This line of work had really bolstered my organizational and multi-tasking skills, but I knew there had to be a way for me to take these skills into a new position that allowed for more creativity and room for growth. Put another way: I didn’t want to simply take another office manager position just because it happened to be in Kansas City, Chicago, or some other new city. My new role keeps me on my toes, offers me more options to develop new skills, and (because again, I’m a writer) gives my career the narrative arc it needed. 

*Another crucial piece to this “natural progression” piece, at least for me, was a natural progression on the pay scale. Being paid adequately for the work you do is important, and that should always be top of mind during your own job-hunting journey!

Whether you’re on the verge of graduating and aren’t sure what you want to do next, or if you’re an alum like me and considering a career change, I think having your own personal wish list is a great place to start. Beginning what’s usually a stressful, uncontrollable journey with intention and setting your own parameters for what its end point looks like goes a long way.

Dustin Vann (BA ’16, MA ’20)

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